Another year, another truly Great Race is in the books. This year’s Bathurst 1000 was tipped as being one of the fastest in history after the 2018 edition ran just over six hours; the start time was pushed back half an hour to compensate and edge the finish closer to prime-time TV.
It was a decision which has been a stroke of genius for Supercars as an unfortunate delay at the start of the race saw the 1000-kilometre enduro get underway at 11:45am, the latest start in history.
A Lap 1 Safety Car looked like it was going to set the scene for the race but 101 laps were run before it made its second appearance on track, triggering a phase of the race which brought the old “Safety Cars breed Safety Cars” motto out.
One-hundred and sixty-one laps and nearly six-and-a-half-hours of racing culminated in a one-lap sprint to the flag between the top drivers in the category; you couldn’t script it better if you’d tried. Add in some late friendly fire, team orders and yet another fuel-dictated race and there’s grounds for justifying the 2019 race as one of the best.
Here’s our pick of the winners and losers in a race that will be talked about for quite some time…
Scott McLaughlin and Alexandre Prémat
The Kiwi and ‘Frenchie’ broke their Bathurst hoodoo and teamed up for one of the great drives to stand atop the podium after 161 laps. Despite a dominant season for McLaughlin, it was by no means an easy feat. The DJR Team Penske driver qualified on provisional pole in the wet qualifying session, converting that to a second Bathurst pole in the shootout, lowering the lap record and going four-tenths clear of the pack just to add salt to the wound.
Pulling out to a healthy lead at the start of the race, Prémat took the reins of the #17 early in the day, having to fight against co-drivers who have only recently been full-time drivers as well as the category’s best primary drivers. The Frenchman’s only error came when he locked up at The Chase in the lead, having withstood immense pressure beforehand to give the car back to McLaughlin for the run home without a scratch.
From there, the defending series champion had to do a triple-stint to the end, finishing the race only six minutes shy of eclipsing the maximum allowed time for a single stint. McLaughlin put in one of the best drives of his career; having to save fuel while the car in front pushed on, hold off challengers behind him and to finally bring the Ford Mustang home in a one-lap dash on cold tyres and low fuel.
While it seems nearly irrelevant in the heat of the moment, the win was McLaughlin’s 18th for the season, the first for team owner Dick Johnson since 1994 and the first ever at Bathurst for team co-owner Roger Penske who celebrated his team winning the Petit Le Mans earlier that day. Now leading the Drivers’ Championship by 622 points and with 900 up for grabs over the next three rounds, McLaughlin has a high chance of wrapping up the title next time out at the Gold Coast 600 and he’ll likely keep the party going all the way to Newcastle.
Shane van Gisbergen and Garth Tander
They may have come up short from delivering Triple Eight a victory for one of their “dream team” combinations but the experienced pair were anything but slow across the 1000-kilometre outing, unlucky not to come up with a victory. Regarded as possibly the strongest driver pairings in the pack, 2016 Supercars champion van Gisbergen was joined by 2007 title-winner and three-time Bathurst 1000 victor Tander for an assault on The Mountain.
There aren’t many times when qualifying in fifth would make you unhappy but the duo knew they’d need to do better if they were going the challenge for a victory. Despite a slow start, Tander posted a solid first stint as he and van Gisbergen chipped away at the leaders throughout the day.
Everything nearly became unstuck when the driver’s door of the #97 didn’t shut properly after a stop, van Gisbergen fortunate to be able to close it and avoid an unnecessary pit stop. Buying a ticket into the final battle thanks to fuel saving and an excellent strategy, van Gisbergen coped with the pressure well at the end of the race to apply heat to McLaughlin while dealing with it from behind, managing to finish second by just six-tenths from his countryman. Although he and Tander would’ve wanted to go one better and take a first Bathurst crown, the pairing proved to work well together, showing van Gisbergen’s adaptability with co-drivers after having five in as many seasons.
James Courtney and Jack Perkins
The Walkinshaw Andretti United team wouldn’t have registered on anyone’s lists of making the Bathurst podium. The Courtney/Perkins pairing qualified 18th and suffered with a general lack of pace compared to the ultra-fast field.
However, at Mount Panorama, fortune favours the brave and the WAU drivers were rewarded in spades. With neither recording a Bathurst win and Courtney only appearing on the podium three times before, over a decade ago from 2006 to 2008, it showed how much the race meant to them both when Perkins pulled out of his Super2 commitments thanks to influenza, wanting to focus on the Sunday race and leave nothing on the table.
Through consistency and a clean race, as well as some luck, they found themselves towards the pointy end in the closing laps of the race with only McLaughlin and van Gisbergen in front while Courtney had to hold off seven-time champion Jamie Whincup behind him. Battling with a cracked wheel rim and having to conserve fuel while the #888 could run at full speed, it was nearly unthinkable for Courtney to hold him off but that’s just what the 2010 Supercars champion did.
A first podium at Bathurst with WAU would be a bittersweet send-off for the Tekno-bound driver while Perkins was able to finally jump on the dais for the first time, notching one up after his father Larry won the Great Race six times. After taking a win at the Gold Coast 600 together in 2015, it’s good for the five-year strong combination to finally face the crowd after the Bathurst 1000, even if it was on the bottom step.
Andre Heimgarter and Bryce Fullwood
Heimgartner and Fullwood had one of those “what might have been” weekends after failing to finish a race where they could have been in the fight to take glory. Kelly Racing’s young guns were boosted in confidence by Fullwood winning on the road in Saturday’s 250-kilometre Super2 feeder series race, only to be stripped of the victory after rather foolishly setting the fastest lap of the race on the last lap while yellow flags were out.
Despite this, both he and Heimgartner fought throughout the day to drag the #7 car from the cusp of the top ten in qualifying up to a top-five spot in the race, genuinely fighting among the leaders. Some smashes in front and great strategy meant Heimgartner was sitting fourth on the road when he was called in to the pits to take on fuel, despite the Kiwi believing he could make it to the end.
Pushing the car too hard with the red mist already descended, he tagged the inside wall at Forrest Elbow with just four laps remaining, bouncing into the outside tyre wall and out of the race. Two potentially strong results for both drivers came to nothing at the end of the weekend though both will be encouraged by the speed they’ve shown, wanting to carry that through the rest of the endurance races.
Fabian Coulthard and Tony D’Alberto
Coulthard and D’Alberto ended up on the wrong side of history in the closing stages of the 2019 Bathurst 1000 and are facing intense scrutiny, along with DJR Team Penske, for some tactics used in the later laps.
Qualifying well down the order in 16th while the sister #17 car was on pole, the pressure was on for the 2017 podium finishers to perform on race day and they did just that. D’Alberto started the #12 car and kept his nose clean, making up spots throughout his stint while Coulthard went hard when he finally got behind the wheel, lapping consistently in the long green flag period to get back into contention.
By Lap 129 Coulthard was up to third with only Jamie Whincup and teammate McLaughlin in front of him. However, with a late Safety Car on Lap 130 and cars behind him needed a shorter drop of fuel than McLaughlin, Coulthard was told by the team to slow down to preserve his engine which was overheating.
Arriving in the pits some 40 seconds after his teammate and thereby avoiding the double-stack pit stop, Coulthard had held up those behind him massively and rightly earned himself a drive-through penalty. While he recovered to sixth by the end of the race, the Kiwi was abused online for his actions and will now face a hearing with the team and Supercars to determine if any further penalties will be applied.
The ‘other’ Ford team needs to remove the magnets from their cars after yet again letting another strong finish go by the wayside thanks to late race contact from two of the team’s top drivers.
Sunday looked like it would bear fruit for the four-car outfit with the #55 of Chaz Mostert and James Moffat starting in second spot, just ahead of Cam Waters and Michael Caruso in the #6 car.
The two Ford Mustangs were glued to each other and the other cars within the top four all day, getting themselves into the mix late in the race when it looked like only the first five cars would have a real chance of winning.
With Whincup and McLaughlin running away in front, Mostert and Waters tried to chase hard but with dramatic consequences. Coming into The Chase, Mostert locked up and got off the brakes to turn in to the corner, locking wheels with Waters which caused damage to both cars, sending them into the gravel trap.
From running third and fourth on the road, the Tickford cars dropped to the bottom of the order, Mostert later taking blame for the incident with Waters furious at his teammate’s actions. It’s the third time they’ve come together at Bathurst in as many years and the second consecutive round where Mostert had made unnecessary contact with his teammate. While Waters has re-signed to the team for the next two seasons, the off-contract Mostert is likely departing the team he has been a part of since 2011, tipped in a move to WAU as he searches for an elusive first title.
It would take more than one page to summarise everything about this year’s Great Race but these drivers were just the tips, or depths, of the iceberg. An energised Bathurst 1000 which ran past 6pm and into prime time was exactly what Supercars needed as it continues to negotiate a TV rights deal for next season and beyond.
Next on the calendar is the party round of the year; the Gold Coast 600. Held on the last weekend of October around the streets of Surfers Paradise, the two 300km races always produce something special and might be the scene of a champion being crowned this year with McLaughlin’s aforementioned points lead.
Images via DJR Team Penske, Kelly Racing, Supercars, Walkinshaw Andretti United